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The urban site of the IIT (Illinois Institute of Technology) campus is a landmark in the architectural history of the United States of America. Mies van der Rohe made Chicago a seminal site of a transferred European, Bauhaus influenced modernism with his design of the campus and university architecture. The Crown Hall, a masterpiece within the whole ensemble of the campus serves as an icon of the success of functionality, transparency and light-flooded rationality in post World War II. ….

The modernist university campus (realised from 1942-1958) was part of a larger concept of an urban “regeneration” plan of the South of Chicago. Between 31st and 35th Street a large section of an African-American neighbourhood, Bronzeville, was erased to provide a tabula rasa for the realisation of IIT. However, this history is mentioned only in a few lines in most of the short descriptions of the campus history. What is obscured by the narration of success, efficiency, and transparency and the discourse of light in architecture is the history of the urban site of IIT which is represented as a slum in the bright version of history and the racial discourse of light and dark.

The Mecca was the last building to resist demolition on 1952, a last witness of a dynamic black community which was called the “Black Metropolis”. The Mecca is memorialised by the Pulitzer Prize winning African-American poet, Gwendolyn Brooks, whose long poem, In the Mecca, is constructed from the voices of fictional inhabitants of the building. Brooks’ poem stands as an important text in the Black Arts Movement and captures the history and politics of that particular urban site in the South Side of Chicago. Brooks’ poem opens with lines that invoke the tension between modernist values and the lived history of the site:

Sit where the light corrupts your face,
Mies van der Rohe retires from grace.
And the fair fables fall.*

Brooks plays off of contemporaneous newspaper and magazine descriptions of The Mecca as a dark, dirty, and dangerous place and portrays the modernist value of light as a corrupting element. Extending this metaphor of light, and engaging the discourse of light in architecture and the use of light and dark in racial discourse, we created a series of solarized images from the campus to link the histories of The Mecca and the modernist “architecture of light” from IIT.